Music industry figures call on government to support program to protect events from COVID cancellations

Australian musicians and concert promoters say they fear what the future holds if the federal government does not put in place a program to help them obtain event insurance related to the pandemic.

Performers across the country hope to resume performing and touring, as the country moves closer to vaccination targets that would allow COVID restrictions and border controls to ease.

But lingering uncertainty over the need for instant lockdowns or border closures means event planners – from musicians on self-funded pub tours to major festival promoters – can’t get insurance to cover their losses. if a show needs to be canceled.

The uncertainty means shows and tours that might otherwise already be on sale for 2022 are at risk.

On Thursday, promoters, artists and music industry organizations took advantage of a parliamentary hearing to once again call on the federal government to put in place a program that would cover the cost of insurance for events, similar to those in place in Europe and UK.

“Do I want it? No,” singer-songwriter Pete Murray told the Senate committee, which is considering a bill that would create the ploy.

“But do I need it? Yes.

“There is a lot of fear [in the industry]. “

John Watson of the music company Eleven, which manages artists like Midnight Oil and Missy Higgins, said the lack of insurance options was a “market failure” the government needed to step in and fix.

“More and more people are saying it’s too risky to go on tour,” he said.

In a submission to the committee, the Insurance Council of Australia said event insurance for pandemics “is not possible without government involvement”, given the difficulty of pricing risk.

Murray said if a government program meant he could insure his visits against a COVID-related cancellation, “at least we have some sort of assurance that we’re going to get something back.”

Vaccines do not target “quick fixes” for music

Representatives for promoter Fuzzy, which hosts festivals including Listen Out, said large-scale events come with major risks with large expenses and slim margins. Some may take a year to organize.

If the Sydney stage of the Listen Out festival with a capacity of 35,000 people were to be canceled on one day’s notice, for example – as Bluesfest was in March – Fuzzy would lose $ 4 million, said its co-founder Adelle Robinson.

A $ AP Rocky on stage at the Listen Out Festival in a yellow hoodie
A $ AP Rocky at the 2018 Listen Out Festival.(Provided: Brett Schewitz)

“We went from a healthy business to a loss-making business in 12 months,” said Ming Gan, another co-founder of Fuzzy.

The music industry is trading at a fraction of its usual level and has been decimated in the past 18 months.

The most recent I Lost My Gig poll, released in August, put the number of canceled events in the arts industry at 28,000 since July 1, representing $ 84 million in lost wages.

While more companies will return to the business in the coming weeks across Australia, “an 80% vaccination rate is not a silver bullet for the live music industry,” said Dean Ormston, manager of the music rights organization APRA-AMCOS.

The program “does not work without federal participation”

The federal government has provided targeted support to the music industry during COVID.

This includes $ 200 million through its RISE program, which provides grants to organize events, and $ 40 million for the Support Act, which helps music industry workers facing financial or mental health crises. .

“We have had feedback from the industry that the RISE fund is coming to market” and is providing the confidence to move forward, said Dr Stephen Arnott, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Creative Economy and the Arts at the Ministry of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.

But the government has repeatedly said that since states and territories are the ones that introduce containment measures and border closures, they should be responsible for putting in place any insurance scheme.

The federal government set up a $ 50 million Temporary Interruption Fund (TIF) for the film and television industry, which Dr. Arnott says has helped 69 projects secure funding by offering investors a certitude.

None of the projects had to use the money, which can be claimed if a production is affected by a case of COVID among key personnel.

During the hearing, Labor Senator Nita Green insisted to Dr Arnott as to why the screen sector initiative was different from what the music industry was calling for.

“People who contract COVID are beyond anyone’s control,” said Dr. Arnott.

“State foreclosure and reduction of site capacity is a state matter… it’s a different issue. “

He said the TIF did not cover losses if productions were to stop due to a state foreclosure.

Tasmania and Western Australia have established their own state underwriting programs for the performing arts industry.

But figures from the music industry told the committee that they were limited and that given the cross-border nature of the work, a national approach was needed.

Australian Festival Association chief executive Julia Robinson said a state lockdown could halt plans in other states if group members couldn’t be sure they could return home without a stake. in quarantine.

The committee is due to report on the bill, introduced by Green Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, by Nov. 3 before it is voted on.

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